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advice: 6 months since i started my forest garden

 
Ronaldo Montoya
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Hi, 6 months ago i started my forest garden in valley in Peru.
The climate is arid tropical and im located in the southern hemisphere.
Here it rains only a few times in a year but there is a lot of water.
My land has 2000 meters and it has 2 water channels in 2 sides of the land.

The first thing i did was to plant pionner trees, that generate organic matter and fix nitrogen. I planted:
casuarina, acacia, sauce , huarango, molle, pacae and the land also has 3 trees of cinamomo that grown by its own.

After planting those trees i made a water channel that cross my land and connect the 2 water channels i have in 2 sides of my land, i made the water channel to pass very near from the trees i planted in that way i dont need to irrigate the trees.

After some weeks a lot of plants grown around the water channels.

Before making this water channel and planting the trees i irrigated my land and all the land became full of johnson grass, after that i killed all johnson grass but now this time ( after planting the trees and making the water channel), johnson grass didnt grow, just a few plants scattered. any idea why is this?


A lot of plants have grown very near from the water channel i made, different types of plants that i didnt planted , it grown a lot of a plant called "cau cau " that is a nitrogen fixer. There is cau cau everywhere but mixed with other plants.
There is a lot of diversity of plants. There are a lot of plants with flours that attract different insects , so I let these plants to grow .
Now there is a lot of diversity in plants ( that i didnt planted) and there also a lot of insects.


At this moment the trees i planted have a lot of these plants and herbs growing around them . I was wondering if this is something good? Or should i kill all the plants that are growing around my trees?

A couple of weeks ago i started mulching ( since is rain time here) my neighbour has a land abandoned ( a lot of years) and that land has trees with a lot of leafs in the floor , the soil of my neighbour land under the leafs , looks very healthy, it smells like soil and has a lot of insects and lot of life, so i bring a lot of leafs from my neigbours land into my land and i putted in places that doesnt had plants, places that only have dry soil.



HEre are some pics of how it looks the land at this moment, and i would like to ask you for some feedback.

What do you think of what im doing? what should i do now? any advice?



















 
Zach Muller
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Location: NE Oklahoma zone 7a
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Hey Ronaldo, it's looks and sounds pretty good to me. As for the absence of Johnson grass now, could it be that you will see it coming back next year, maybe now is not its time for starting growth?

I had a similar experience in my forest garden, a lot of plants growing that I did not plant. Since they bring bugs and flowers I leave them, the diversity is great. I have mulched the immediate area around my trees more heavily and I make sure those areas don't fill up with too many plants just to give them space while they are establishing. Other than that I let the free plants grow in their seasonal cycle.

Nature takes care of planting flowers that attract bees and wasps early in the season when peaches and pears are blooming. Right now it is the beginning of spring for me and my garden is full of dead nettle, chickweed, and a bunch of other stuff that I did not plant. It's more life support for what I planted.
It sounds like if nature is giving you a nitrogen fixer all over, then it is helping you out, if you want to use and area then you can just chop and drop that plant, supplying both nitrogen and mulch material.
 
Sheldon Nicholson
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Location: Canada
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Hi Ronaldo,

It sounds like you know what you are doing and you are getting good results. It is very encouraging to hear of someone in Peru practicing permaculture! In my experience living in the tropics almost everyone just burns things instead of letting them grow like you are, good job!

I do have some suggestions but you can decide for yourself if they are a good idea:

In the pictures it looks like the part of the land that is mostly bare would be an ideal place for some swales (unless it is very steep land?). You can just dig lots of small ones by hand and make sure that the water has a good place to overflow into the swale below it because with your heavy rains the swales WILL overflow and so you want to make sure that the water can escape without just collapsing the entire swale.

Another thing you can do on that bare area that would work almost as good as swales but would be safer and easier is to build low rock walls on contour. I would probably build them about 1 foot tall and 2-3 feet wide. These will trap debris and over time will have the same effect as swales: more water will go into your soils to feed your plants instead of flowing downhill off your property!

Another alternative is to lay logs down along the contour line. These will have a similar effect to the swales or rock walls. However you will need to make sure the logs wont roll down the hill in a heavy rainfall!

About the plants around your trees: I would NOT recommend killing them unless they are either shading the tree's leaves or if it is a vine that is wrapping around the tree at all. Having plants growing right around your tree will provide many benefits for the tree in the long run: more fertility in the soil, less evaporation of water near the tree, more dew irrigation near the tree, more habitat for predators who will protect your trees from pests, and more... It would probably be okay to "kill" (cut down) the plants that are within 1 foot of the trunk of your tree, but there is no need to do more than that in my experience.

Good luck!


 
Ronaldo Montoya
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Hi zach, in your opinion why is it good to dont let plants grow near the tree? in which bad way this can affect my trees?
Other thing, i read that is not good to mulch at the begining of the forest garden , why mulching pionner trees?






Zach Muller wrote:Hey Ronaldo, it's looks and sounds pretty good to me. As for the absence of Johnson grass now, could it be that you will see it coming back next year, maybe now is not its time for starting growth?

I had a similar experience in my forest garden, a lot of plants growing that I did not plant. Since they bring bugs and flowers I leave them, the diversity is great. I have mulched the immediate area around my trees more heavily and I make sure those areas don't fill up with too many plants just to give them space while they are establishing. Other than that I let the free plants grow in their seasonal cycle.

Nature takes care of planting flowers that attract bees and wasps early in the season when peaches and pears are blooming. Right now it is the beginning of spring for me and my garden is full of dead nettle, chickweed, and a bunch of other stuff that I did not plant. It's more life support for what I planted.
It sounds like if nature is giving you a nitrogen fixer all over, then it is helping you out, if you want to use and area then you can just chop and drop that plant, supplying both nitrogen and mulch material.
 
Ronaldo Montoya
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Hi Sheldon, im not familiar with swales, swales just mean to make a hole? like the water channels i made? But that only work for water comming from rain , right?

In my land i have plenty of water always, i have 2 water channels in 2 sides of the land with water running all the time and i can use all water i want.

The problem is that here only rains from febrary to march and just a few times , soon its gonna end rainning.... maybe it would be better to make more water channels around all the land?


Other question, letting plants grow very near the trees wont affect them in a bad way? do they dont use nutrients that the trees also need? or that doesnt mind with pionner trees?

would you let plants grow around other types of trees as fruit trees? why conventionally farmers kill plants growing around trees? in monoculture?


Last thing: in my acacia i have a vine plant growing around the acacia , not around the floor ,but around all the tree until the top of the tree. Is that bad? Why ? should i kill it?










Sheldon Nicholson wrote:Hi Ronaldo,

It sounds like you know what you are doing and you are getting good results. It is very encouraging to hear of someone in Peru practicing permaculture! In my experience living in the tropics almost everyone just burns things instead of letting them grow like you are, good job!

I do have some suggestions but you can decide for yourself if they are a good idea:

In the pictures it looks like the part of the land that is mostly bare would be an ideal place for some swales (unless it is very steep land?). You can just dig lots of small ones by hand and make sure that the water has a good place to overflow into the swale below it because with your heavy rains the swales WILL overflow and so you want to make sure that the water can escape without just collapsing the entire swale.

Another thing you can do on that bare area that would work almost as good as swales but would be safer and easier is to build low rock walls on contour. I would probably build them about 1 foot tall and 2-3 feet wide. These will trap debris and over time will have the same effect as swales: more water will go into your soils to feed your plants instead of flowing downhill off your property!

Another alternative is to lay logs down along the contour line. These will have a similar effect to the swales or rock walls. However you will need to make sure the logs wont roll down the hill in a heavy rainfall!

About the plants around your trees: I would NOT recommend killing them unless they are either shading the tree's leaves or if it is a vine that is wrapping around the tree at all. Having plants growing right around your tree will provide many benefits for the tree in the long run: more fertility in the soil, less evaporation of water near the tree, more dew irrigation near the tree, more habitat for predators who will protect your trees from pests, and more... It would probably be okay to "kill" (cut down) the plants that are within 1 foot of the trunk of your tree, but there is no need to do more than that in my experience.

Good luck!


 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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A swale is a ditch/channel. And yes I would create more rows of channels. One for every row of fruiting trees, say every 10meters or so.
You can close them off and only flood them once a week if you like, or just install drip irrigation pipes.

Get rid of (kill) any vines growing up your plants even if they are fruiting/productive vines.

If it is low growing ground cover, I let them grow up to 30cm (1ft) to the productive tree, if it is some other shrub tree them I like 1m (3ft) spacing.

Regular farmer like to have only 1 type of plants because they were told, to buy nitrogen fertilizer vs growing nitrogen fixing support plant, told to buy insecticide spray vs growing pest control plants, told to buy pollination service via shipped in bees vs growing pollinator attracting plants, told to make their farm look cute and productive so that they get bigger loans/bigger commercial buyers.

 
Sheldon Nicholson
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Hi Ronaldo,

You ask very good questions!

Yes a swale is just like a water channel except that it is "on contour".

Here is a link to more information on swales:http://vergepermaculture.ca/blog/2012/04/18/swales-hold-water/

The key point is that wether you use swales, rock walls, or logs they need to be "On contour" in order to harvest the rainwater and store it in the ground for the dry season.
"On Contour" means that you dig the channel so that the water does not flow along the channel but instead stays put and doesnt move. You do this by digging the channel accross the slope of the hill instead of up or down the hill. It is a bit hard to explain.
Here is a link explaining how to find the contour lines on your land, do NOT try to do it by sight because human eyes are not very good at it so you will probably mess up which means the swales will not work.

Swales will take the water from the wet season and put it down into the soil where it will stay for a long time, even with no rain, for your plants and trees to use.

If swales sound too complicated you can just keep doing what you are doing: planting pioneer trees. But swales will make a big difference on your land when the dry season comes.

About letting plants grow near your trees:

There are a few reasons conventional farmers kill plants growing around their trees:

- sometimes they need bare ground in order to harvest with machines.. I dont think this applies to you because you are not using special harvesting machines

- the type of tree they are growing has been bred (grown many generations in a row) on farms where the ground was always kept bare so the tree is used to it and needs it to survive... This also does not apply to you because you are growing trees which are from the wild and are used to growing with other plants around them

- They believe that the plants around their trees are using up water and nutrients so the tree wont grow as well. This seems to make sense but is actually not true!
Here is why:
All nutrients in nature originally come from rock. The rock is broken down by microscopic bacteria and fungi so that the nutrients that were in the rock are then available for plants to use. Yes all plants take up nutrients from the soil when they grow, BUT these plants also release "exudates" (which is basically sugar the plant made from the sun) from their roots back into the soil which are specifically meant to help the microscopic bacteria and fungi break down more rock which will release more nutrients into the soil for other plants to use. When you do not disturb your soil AND you allow it to be constantly covered by living plants then you get another thing, called mycorrhyzal fungi, which is a special fungi which attaches to the roots of the plants and gives the plant water and nutrients from very far away. Mycorrhizal fungi also will connect the roots of many different plants together and share the nutrients between plants so that all the plants get what they need. All of these plants around your trees will also be dropping stuff onto the soil (branches, leaves, fruit, seeds, etc) which will decompose into the soil. When these things decompose into the soil they are then called Organic Matter. Soils with more organic matter will actually be able to hold way more water and nutrients than soils without much organic matter. So this Organic Matter will help your trees a lot when it doesnt rain.

All you have to do is look at nature to see that having plants covering all your soil and growing right around your trees is the best way to do it. Dig in the soil under weeds and compare it to soil that has no plants on it!

I suggest that you do an experiment to find out for yourself what is true instead of trusting me or anyone else: for some of your trees kill all the plants around them and for some of your trees never kill any of the plants around them. Then wait for a year or two, see which ones do better!

 
Sheldon Nicholson
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Location: Canada
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Yes kill any vines growing ON your trees because the vines will: shade some of the trees leaves, weigh the tree down which might make it fall over (depending on how big the vine is), catch more wind which also might make the tree fall over, and strangle the tree so that the tree cannot move water up and down its trunk (only some vines will actually strangle a tree though).

When your trees are really big (30ft tall) it is probably ok to let vines grow on them because you are in the tropics and your big trees will easily handle it, but it depends on how strong the tree is.

Yes let plants grow next to your fruit trees the same as the pioneer trees, but make sure that the plants do not shade the fruit trees at all. However, if you have certain commercial varieties of fruit trees they might be very weak trees which cannot handle being near other plants so you might need to help it by cutting all the plants around it... but you do not have to kill the plants near it: just cut them down, let them grow, and then cut them down again... doing it this way will help your soil (and therefore your trees!) more than if you actually kill the plants.

Send more pictures! I am jealous of your tropical climate!

Also I forgot to put the link about "contour lines" in my earlier post, here it is: http://goodlifepermaculture.com.au/how-to-find-contour-lines-low-fi-high-tech-options/
 
Ronaldo Montoya
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Hey, i have seen abandoned trees ( trees that grown its own) that has a lot of vine plants all around the tree and i think it looks very nice. I think its beautiful and the trees look healthy.
So , letting vine plants to grow around the tree is something bad in all cases? so why nature created vines? and i was thinking that maybe that wouldnt depend on the type of vine plant that is growing around the tree?


 
S Bengi
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Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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As a kid growing up I had passionfruit vines growing on my guava tree. It did produce less guava than the other trees, but I loved the passion fruit they were super sweet, and we used to play under and in that tree alot and love the year-round bloom. So go ahead and let the vines stay. The vine will produce extra biomass and shade the soil, produce pretty flowers but will shade out it's host and place extra mechanical stress on the limbs. Experiment and see what works for you.

A mature forest will shade out and kill most if not all grasses except along the edge. A mature vine will shade and kill most if not all trees. Does this mean that trees are EVIL for killing grass or that VINES are EVIL for killing trees...NOPE. We just have to be aware of there nature and plan accordingly.

I also have no problem getting rid of some plants to create a pretty sculpture/flower bed/house/play area, so if you like seeing beautiful vine on tree art, and it makes you happy, then you should do it.
 
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